Earlier in March, I read a blog on BBC Travel, written by Eric Weiner. He said that he and his family go on an annual road trip to Canada, in part because he loves how "nice" we Canadians are.
It got me to thinking about whether being nice is a good thing or not. I'm not so keen on the whole idea of being "nice." I prefer other ways of being, for example, attributes such as kindness, politeness and consideration.
Some people see no distinctions between being "nice," and these other attributes, but to me, there's a big difference between being "nice" and being kind, courteous and caring.
In my mind, niceness arises from the need to please others and to avoid giving offense. The "nice" person is careful not to do anything that might upset the other person; they'll shy away from direct confrontation and hesitate to make demands on their own behalf.
The "nice" person always looks to see what they could do for the other person; how they might curry favor with them. In the mind of a nice person, it's very important to make the other person happy, even if it's at their own expense.
Psychologically, people pleasing can come from feeling not quite good enough about yourself; you grow up with inadequate validation and affirmation from the people who raised you, so you spend your adult life looking for these things in your interactions with others.
How other people see the nice person is of utmost importance to them. If they're liked and approved of, they can feel okay about themselves; if someone is displeased with them, it can be devastating.
Kindness, courtesy and consideration, on the other hand, are values that anyone can have if they care about others. We can exhibit these attributes without denying or own needs and feelings; in fact, they can be simply an overflow of our positive self-regard.
As Canadians, we have a bit of an inferiority complex with regard to other nations. America to our South has been traditionally a richer and more powerful nation; Europe is older and more sophisticated, the Caribbean is cooler and more laid back.
We Canadians just aren't sexy, and it bothers us. We can't compete with the glamor of America, the fun of the Islands or the sheen of Europe. But we can be nice! Everyone can remark on how nice we are and as a nation, this builds our sense of worth.
Problems arise when we focus so much on being nice to others that we forget to take care of ourselves. We neglect our own needs and tolerate unacceptable behaviors. We become quietly depressed, even resentful, and risk leaking our anger in passive-aggressive behavior.
I think it may be time for us Canadians to reconsider our investment in being so nice. We don't have to stop being kind, thoughtful, caring or polite, but we might want to try saying "no" on occasion. We might want to let go of our obsession with making everyone else happy at our own expense.
If the fish is overcooked at the fancy restaurant we're eating at, we might actually consider sending it back. If we're put on hold for 20 minutes we might contemplate registering a protest. We might even imagine giving up our compulsion for saying "I'm sorry" at the least possible provocation.
We might risk being seen as not so very nice, sometimes. It's a thought, isn't it? Do we dare?
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